Netrunner is a GNU/Linux distribution that revolves around the KDE desktop. It is released in two different versions. One is called the ‘Standard release’ which is based on Kubuntu’s core, and the other is called the ‘Rolling release’, and it is based on Manjaro’s core (which is basically ‘Arch Linux’ core).
Both versions include proprietary multimedia codecs (Adobe flash included) & proprietary applications such as Skype by default, something that most users will appreciate. Since I have never used this distribution, I decided to download the Kubuntu 14.04 LTS based release that got released a few days ago.
Unlike the ‘Rolling release’, this one is supported up to 5 years. It also includes a somewhat customized KDE (4.13.1) desktop (for instance, it comes with a feature called ‘DreamDesktop’, enabled by default — a feature that lets adding a video as the desktop background), Kernel 3.13.0-24, X.Org 1.15.1, Skype 4.3, Muon Discover 2.2 (Kubuntu’s software center) and ships with an interesting feature called ‘Firefox instant start’ which opens up Firefox (included version is 30.0) in an instant!. More on that later.
I downloaded the 64-bit version which is about 1.4GB in size and created a Live USB for installing it (alongeside Windows 8.1). But before I begin sharing my experience, below is a brief introduction to my hardware:
Intel Core i3-2330M CPU, Intel HD 3000 GPU, 4GB RAM (DDR3), Toshiba 7200 RPM (320GB) SATA HDD, Intel N-1030 Wireless adapter, Realtek network adapter ('RTL8168'), LED display with 1366x768 resolution (60Hz/60FPS). It's a Dell Vostro V-131 notebook.
The Installer …
You know, the moment I saw it was based on Kubuntu, it got me a little worried to be honest. This was because I was never impressed with Kubuntu. I have had used its initial release and a few more that came after, but Kubuntu, when compared to the Gnome based Ubuntu back then, was very buggy as the KDE apps used to crash all over the place!. It never struck me as a robust distribution, which is also why I have not tried it in years.
So anyway, with that in mind, I booted the notebook computer using the Live USB and it presented me with a beautiful looking KDE desktop. ‘So far, so good’, thought I. Once the desktop finished loading, I executed the installer (which is the one used in Kubuntu) almost immediately. The installer is very intuitive and beautiful looking, I give it that. So I quickly went through the ‘steps’ (language selection, network, disk setup, time zone selection… you know the drill) and by the time I got to ‘Keyboard setup’, it gave me this big fat error and crashed!. What a nightmare!.
So I meditated on that for a few seconds 😛 & suddenly I had a hint that this might have been due to the automatic detection of my language (through the ‘time zone’ that I had selected of course) & the installer then trying to display a different keyboard layout as a result, because it was apparent that it had no issues while displaying US based layouts, as it is something that is too big to go unnoticed.
So I took a note of the current time in US (Washington), disconnect the internet connection, rebooted the PC and changed the time through BIOS (had troubles while trying to do that in Netrunner) to the current US time. Then booted into the Netrunner using the Live USB, went through the installation without connecting to internet, and it worked. So if you are too having similar issues, then I recommend that you try this. Then once you have installed the OS you can easily add/remove language & keyboard layout using KDE’s ‘System Settings’ window.
Update: Actually, there is no way for an installer to automatically predict your time-zone purely based on the date & time of your PC, unless it has access to the internet. So there is no point of changing your time to US time in the event of this crash. So all you have to do, is to disconnect the internet connection, shut down the PC from the Live desktop session (don’t reboot, shut it down). Then turn ON the PC again, make sure the internet connection is OFF, boot into the Live desktop session, then execute the installer, and at the ‘Keyboard setup’, Netrunner will fall back to its default setting (‘US’). It should do the trick (yes I tested it).
As far as the installer was concerned, it was very very disappointing. The installer should be one of the robust components of an OS, and if it fails by creating an everlasting, negative impression, well it ain’t good!. That said, it is a bit unfair to hold it against Netrunner as the installer is Kubuntu based, still…
Other than that, I had no further issues with the installation. Disk setup, hardware detection… everything went well.
First Boot-up & the Desktop …
Now I understand that Netrunner developers are trying to go with the whole blueish theme here. But I think the color Blue dominates the GRUB screen too much (above). I have a humble suggestion. How about making the blueish background also black, while keeping the background of the selected/highlighted text lines in blue, where the selected texts are displayed in white?
I liked the boot-logo though. It is beautiful.
The Desktop …
I like how they have arranged the desktop. The background, icon layout (arranged horizontally)… it is a nice looking desktop layout with custom ‘Folder’ view called ‘Netrunner Desktop’.
*. Although I had never used Netrunner before, I could see from the screenshots on internet that they have decided to stick with the Qt/KDE style theme rather than going with a GnomeShell looking one that the previous release used, which does not make a whole lot of sense for a distribution that is based on KDE.
*. ‘Homerun Kicker’ is the start-menu, it is quite minimalist and excellent. When you click on the ‘Suspend’, ‘Restart’ & ‘Shutdown’ icons, it executes the chosen action without having to conform, which is also pretty neat.
*. One thing that bothered me about the bottom panel was that it does not display ‘tooltips’ when you hover over its icons. Now I too find it sometimes to be a distraction to have the tooltips enabled, but not having them have now forced me to click on indicator icons (specially) to read their ‘status’ (say while trying to read the batter charge levels, for example). This might be an issue for those that are new to KDE, but there is an option called ‘Show Information Tips’ under ‘Workspace’ in KDE ‘System Setting’ window, that enables this. So no harm done, in a way I mean .
*. There is also an additional volume indicator present called ‘Veromix’ which gives access to huge number of effects, an equalizer… that can be applied system-wide which is pretty handy.
*. I do not know if it a new feature in KDE 4.13.1 or it is due to a tweak from Netrunner, but I like how things are laid out and displayed in ‘My Computer’ window, it looks very clean.
Other Applications …
Netruner 14 comes with a good collection of useful (& popular) software applications. I am not going to go over all of them, but to mention a few: GIMP 2.8.10, Steam, Thunderbird 24.6.0, OpenJDK 7u55, Clementine 1.2, Qmmp 0.7.4, VLC 2.1.4, LibreOffice, Yakuake 2.9.9 (drop-down terminal emulator) 18.104.22.168, vokoscreen (excellent desktop recorder), Virtualbox 4.3.10, Adobe Flash 22.214.171.1248 and as mentioned in the beginning, it supports playing popular proprietary multimedia codecs by default.
‘Firefox Instant Start’ …
Firefox was never known for its faster startup times. But in Netrunner 14, if you click on Firefox icon after the desktop gets fully loaded, it gets open up almost immediately!. From a technological perspective, this is merely an illusion, because what they have done is, they have created a script (using an existing feature of KDE) that automatically loads Firefox into the RAM with the desktop startup. So by the time you click on its icon, since it is already there on the RAM, it presents the user with the illusion of an instant startup.
But, after clicking on its icon, the time a user has to wait till Firefox’s window appears (in a normal scenario), these waiting times are now simply added to the system’s startup (more or less) instead. So there is no real benefit (as far as I can see), not necessarily.
But being said that, from an emotional outlook, I think this is a good illusion. I like it 😉 .
However, this feature is also only available if you have 2GB or more RAM. But as long as you can make a simple calculation (from Gigabytes to Kilobytes), you can easily change the default value (2000000) on this script to force it to work on PCs with RAM capacity less than 2GB. Or, if you do not like this feature, then you can easily disable it under ‘Start-up & Shutdown…’ setting of ‘System Settings’ window as well.
Performance Related Details …
I measured these details before touching any application for keeping the system in ‘pure state’ to keep the accuracy of the readings. Also, after installing the system, I booted into the desktop and then shut it down. I did this few times (reboots included), for letting things to settle down. Also, while measuring, I took five samples of each test (except the power usage test since the tool that measure it takes a lot of samples thus it is highly accurate) and then based on that data I calculated the average values and used them for creating the graphs.
As you can see, Netrunner 14 was about 13.5% faster to boot when compared to ‘OpenMandriva Lx’ and 7.8% slower compared to ‘Manjaro’.
Memory Usage Upon Desktop Loading
Netrunner 14 scored the highest memory usage readings of the three (14.5% more compared to ‘OpenMandriva Lx’ & 48% more compared to ‘Manjaro’). This reading however is mostly due to the ‘Firefox instant startup’ feature that I mentioned earlier and few other additional applications that Netrunner 14 executes at the desktop start-up.
At the desktop start-up Firefox consumes about 190MiB, Yakuake Terminal emulator (14MiB), KDE IM Contacts (7MiB), Krunner (17MiB), Veromix volume controller (8MiB)… so altogether it is roughly about 236MiB. If you remove that much from the memory usage, then it drops around 535MiB mark which is pretty normal for most KDE based distributions, though there are some that are more lightweight (such as ‘KaOS 2014‘ for instance).
Still, despite having this slight disadvantage of having to execute few additional programs, Netrunner 14 boots pretty fast, & think this is due to ‘ureadahead’ — a utility that is developed by Ubuntu that has the ability to dramatically reduce boot-up times.
CPU Usage at idle
System monitor process kept consuming 1% of CPU cycles most of the time. Other than that, application interaction with the CPU was minimal for long periods, when the OS was at idle. Very nice.
Power Usage at idle
Power consumption of Netrunner 14 was also a bit higher, although it was not as high as under ‘OpenMandriva Lx’, it was no where near the impressive low readings of ‘Manjaro. I however was able to fix it to an acceptable degree by installing ‘TLP’ (a tool that automatically lowers the power consumption by applying various hardware based tweaks), just like I was able to under Ubuntu 14.04 LTS and Linux Mint 17 Cinnamon.
Note: I had disabled power saving options that turn OFF & dim the display screen. Also as usual, kept Wi-Fi turned ON and let the OS idle. I also turn Bluetooth OFF, but KDE had failed to recognize the adapter, but its icon was however displayed on the notification area (more on that later).
Those that read my reviews are aware of my long-time complaint about KDE (with the exception of ‘KaOS’) not being as responsive as other desktops (Gnome, XFce or E17) are when the disk drive is under a reasonable stress, although the degree to which a KDE distribution is responsive varies from distribution to distribution, from my experience. Some are slightly better while other are just horrible. I do not know what your experience is with such matters though.
So I carried out my test. While copying a 1.4GB file within ‘Home’ folder, I tried to play video file through VLC. Then I tried to open: ‘LibreOffice Writer’, ‘Konsole’ with the hope of running a command, system monitor & in between, I tried to navigate into folders that had somewhat larger amount of files inside them using the file manager.
So how did it go?
Well, VLC was able to play the file only after the file copy execution was finished. But I would not hold it against Netrunner 14, as it is how with VLC on most such occasions under various desktops. The OS however, got stuck for few seconds, then it ‘came back’ and I could then use the mouse to use the ‘start-menu’ for starting applications or could use the file manager (while I could use it, it responded really well by opening folders reasonably faster). This only lasted for a few seconds and then it went into being stuck. This cycle of being stuck and then being responsive, it continued till the file was finished copying.
It was nowhere near being excellent nor I can call it of being ‘good’. I would say it was ‘Okay’. The frustration continues…
ACPI and Hardware Issues
My fingerprint reader is not yet supported by GNU/Linux. Bluetooth adapter was recognized the first time I booted into the desktop. I turned it OFF and the issue came into being from the next boot-up where KDE failed to recognize it. I recall a similar incident in ‘OpenMandriva Lx 2014’ as well.
Screen brightness gets reset to its maximum upon each desktop login, but this is how it is under most other distributions as well. Other than that, other hardware devices worked without major issues.
Netrunner 14 was the contender of the three, when it came to quickly turning OFF the PC. It was 34.8% faster compared to ‘OpenMandriva Lx’ & 11.8% when compared to ‘Manjaro’ which was great!.
Final Words …
My biggest frustration is with the installer. After all these years, Kubuntu has still failed to achieve a certain degree of maturity, one that should arrive naturally with the progress of time anyway. Sure there is luckily a workaround, but this is still a major issue & I do not know if it is associated with other languages either.
But other than that, even though Netrunner 14 had few minor issues, it pretty much behaved how a typical KDE desktop does on my hardware, oh! and additionally, as mentioned few times, if you have a RAM capacity that is beyond 2GB, then you can enjoy an instant Firefox execution which is pretty unique also. But as always, the choice is yours. If interested, please go to this web page to learn more and to download it. Thank you for reading.